The intriguing notion that the dog park is the singles bar of the late ’90s is the starting point for Bruce McCulloch’s feature directorial debut, a charming, quite funny take on modern romance. The former member of the Kids in the Hall troupe stumbles in the final reel, however, when he segues from light comedy to syrupy sentimentality, a move that serves only to highlight the rather shallow development of the characters. If marketed properly, “Dog Park” could attract hip, young auds, but its bark may not translate into much theatrical bite. At the least, this canine comedy confirms that McCulloch is a talented comic writer-director and shows that he’s comfortable with mainstream material far removed from the much more edgy Kids in the Hall humor.
Tale of contemporary dating revolves around the hapless Andy (Luke Wilson). His g.f., Cheryl (Kathleen Robertson), has just walked out on him and moved in with another guy, Trevor (Gordon Currie); even worse, she’s taken their dog, Mogley, with her. In one of the funnier subplots, the collie is seeing a dog psychiatrist, Dr. Cavan (Mark McKinney), a wacky dog lover who has trouble dealing with two-legged creatures. The doghouse doc soon discovers that Mogley has been traumatized by having to watch Cheryl’s energetic daily sex sessions with her new lover.
Andy has already fallen for the beautiful but distant Lorna (Natasha Henstridge), but Lorna, who is also on the rebound, has soured on men and prefers to focus her emotional attention on her dog, the incredibly slothful Peanut. When not hanging with her pooch, Lorna is the host of a goofy children’s TV show, “Ms. Bookworm.”
In the yarn’s most improbable twist, a gorgeous, oversexed bouncy blonde, Keiran (Kristin Lehman), takes a shine to the mild-mannered Andy, and her raging libido soon overwhelms him. Then there’s Andy’s best friends, the supposedly ideal couple of Jeri (Janeane Garofalo) and Jeff (McCulloch), who are always smooching and making Andy feel even more pathetic.
Pic’s early going is chock-full of snappy one-liners and perceptive, often hilarious remarks about the modern-day dating game. McCulloch keeps the comedy flowing at a steady pace and shows an uncanny knack for sending up the vagaries of mating rituals without resorting to sitcomy, lowest-common-denominator wisecracks. Various running gags involving the story’s canines provide no small amount of richly comic moments, most notably Mogley’s therapy sessions.
But, in the long haul, McCulloch’s inability to invest these people with anything resembling full-scale personalities makes it difficult to care too deeply about their amorous ups and downs. When things take a turn for the more dramatic, pic becomes mushy and much less interesting.
Cast is uneven. Wilson is endearing as the reserved, perennially perplexed Andy, but his lack of dynamism eventually becomes wearisome. Henstridge is even more problematic, showing almost no personality in her turn as the cold-as-ice Lorna, and Garofalo’s role is too thinly written. In perhaps the biggest surprise, McCulloch, an inspired comic actor, gives himself little opportunity to shine as the nerdy Jeff. McKinney, also a Kids in the Hall alumnus, is hilarious as the quirky pooch therapist.
Lensing makes good use of its downtown Toronto locations, moving from hip offices to pristine dog parks, which are populated by canines of all shapes and sizes.